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How Much Money Can I Make Storm Chasing?

by Matt Ver Steeg, WeatherEdge, Inc.

On a weekly basis, we receive a volume of emails from our visitors requesting information on how they can make money hunting tornadoes. Most of those requests also ask about the salary range that they can expect once they graduate from school. With all of the hype that's been generated in the news media the last several years, it's no wonder that this occurs.

The truth is, that it is nearly impossible to earn a living from storm chasing. The only person that I know who managed that feat successfully was Warren Faidley. He was in the right place at the right time, and developed a market for himself. Most chasers aren't that lucky. One thing Warren had going strongly in his favor was that he was a great photographer, having cut his teeth early on in the newspaper business.

If you were to sit down and produce a business plan, you would quickly face the truth that it would be nearly impossible to make it work. For example...let's say that you need to buy some camera equipment and other chase related gear to get you going, and you'll shell out $5,000 for it. Then, in a normal chase season, you expect to drive 20,000 miles in search of your quarry. At an assumed cost of .31 cents per mile, you're looking at $6,200 in vehicle costs. Throw in $1,500 for hotels and food, $1,000 for cellular phone and data costs, and your total is at $13,700 for the first year. AND, that pays you NOTHING.

For arguments sake, let's say that you've had a good season, and bagged 20 tornadoes on video. IF the video was really good, and IF you were the first one to a satellite uplink, maybe you sold half of them to the national media types at $400 each, and sold them to local media outlets for $100. The rest you sold locally for $50 apiece. Your grand total for your efforts? $5,500. OOPS! You just lost $8,200 for the year. You are really going to be in the doghouse with your significant other. Did I mention the fact that when dealing with the media, you need to get phone numbers, the name of the person you talked to, and a purchase order number? If you don't, some of those checks will not make it to your mailbox.

"Wait!" You say, "But I can make it up by selling my video tapes over the Internet and to other chasers, right?" Yes, you can sell a FEW to them. After all, regardless of what you and I think, not everybody in this country are thrilled about watching tornadoes, or storm structure shots that they know nothing about. Most folks are just plain scared at the thought of a tornado, let alone chasing one. You'll probably sell a few here and there, but I wouldn't walk into the local bank and take out a loan for $20,000 worth of editing gear just yet.

"I know!" You say, "I'll run a chase tour service. That will make me money hand over fist!" Okay, I'll agree that this shows some promise, so let's look at things a bit. In the last couple of years, I've witnessed a lot of storm chasing tour groups out in the field. Obviously, there are people willing to shell out large sums of money to go on a chase safari. First of all, write up a business plan. Figure out how you're going to market your services, how you're going to fund it, and how you will execute your plan. You need vehicles, drivers, support services, and equipment. The biggest and most important thing you need is liability insurance. I don't care how many waiver forms your attorney draws up for your customers to sign. If one of them gets hurt, or even mentally traumatized by their chase experience, chances are they will sue. If you don't have insurance, expect to go out of business quickly. Also, most states require businesses to carry liability and workman's comp insurance, in order to operate. It also goes without saying that you need to be able to find storms, or else you will have very disgruntled customers, which equals no repeat business.

If you want to begin a storm chasing tour service, go for it. Get a written business plan, a corporate attorney, accountant, and insurance first. But after all that, consider whether or not you really want to deal with 10, 20, 30, or 40 different personalities, varied levels of bladder control, differing opinions on where and when to eat and sleep, etc. As for me, heh, heh. Not a chance. No way would I want to do that. And, if anyone were to ever get hurt....well.....I like to be able to sleep at night.

Another problem that you'll face is copyright infringement. Once you've sold photographs or video to media outlets, you never know when or where those clips will turn up. Normally, you sell one time rights to your product, but that doesn't stop some people from repackaging your footage in some other form a year or two down the line. Many successful chasers diligently monitor television programs for infringement, and aggressively pursue the violators. If you sell photographs, DO NOT send the buyer an original, no matter how bad the pressure! Send them a copy instead. I had a television station 'lose' 5 original slides, and to make matters worse, they didn't give me the credit as the photographer!

My suggestion is...have a regular day job, and chase as a hobby. There are only a handful of people that will make a living out of storm chasing. I know, I know...that could be you...but I think you'd have a better chance winning the lottery.

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Storm chasing is dangerous. You could be hurt or killed in its pursuit, especially if you have little or no knowledge of severe storms and their environment. Chase hazards include but are not limited to heavy rain, flash flooding, lightning, high winds, large hail, tornadoes, and flying debris. Hydroplaning on the road and traffic accidents also occur. If you desire to chase, get informed and educated about weather. Contact your local National Weather Service Office, and enroll in a SKYWARN training class. Read and view all of the published information regarding severe weather, thunderstorms, and tornadoes that you can. You are responsible for educating yourself. Next, contact an experienced chaser in your area, and arrange to travel with them, until you've gained sufficient experience to go it alone. Even at that, veteran chasers get caught in harm's way from time to time. Play it safe. This page is for informational and educational use, and the authors disavow any responsibility for actions you may take.

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